Captivate - Vanessa Van Edwards
Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
The Start Zone is the starting point at all events. Emotionally, it’s the place where nerves are running highest. When people have just arrived, they’re usually juggling lots of thoughts. They are running late, checking in, taking off their coats, surveying the room, seeing if they know anyone, worrying about first impressions, silencing their phones, running to the bathroom, or praying for a good time. The biggest mistake I see at events is when people hover at the boundary of the Start Zone. It’s a social trap. You’re catching people at a confidence low. We noticed that the people who collected the least amount of business cards tried to pounce on people right in the Start Zone. What they didn’t realize was that they were trying to connect with people who weren’t open to connection yet. When you approach someone before they get oriented to an event, they are not only more distracted during your conversation, but they will also be looking over your head to scope out the room and find people they know— you’ll have a much harder time engaging in eye contact. They are also more likely to excuse themselves to get their drink, grab some food, say hi to the host, or go to the bathroom—and less likely to be receptive to anything you have to say.
The Side Zone is also filled with secret traps that people often fall into. I call it the Side Zone because we noticed that when people fall into these traps, they become sidelined and don’t get to meet many new people. The first trap in the Side Zone is an easy one to remember: the bathroom. Sure, go to the bathroom, but don’t hover outside it. It’s creepy. The second Side Zone trap is making a beeline for the food and then floating around it all night. This isn’t a terrible trap, but it isn’t a great place to plant yourself. Not only will you eat too much and contend with a food baby all night, but you will also make it hard for other people to get their food and eat. It’s difficult to strike up conversations when people are trying to load up their plates, almost impossible to shake hands, and makes for awkward chatting-while-chewing moments. The third Side Zone trap is immediately going to people you know. Once you join up with your colleagues, friends, or acquaintances, it is incredibly challenging to get out and meet new people. The best thing to do is wave or give your friends a quick hug when you arrive, and then say you will circle back to them. You can hang out with them as the crowd thins out, but capitalize on your fresh energy at the beginning of an event to hit the Social Zone.
The Social Zone is where the magic happens. First, the best place to start working a room is right where people exit the bar. By the time they’re here, the emotional, high-anxiety feeling of the Start Zone will have died down. Drinks in hand, people are ready to mingle, if not desperate to have someone to talk to. You become their savior if you rescue them from drinking alone.
While I don’t recommend standing around the food, hidden sweet spots are at the couches or bar tables where people are already eating. They are often hoping for someone like you to set their plate down beside theirs. Something like, “Hey, can I join you while you eat?” works well.
Make a powerful first impression by nonverbally hacking all three levels of trust. In showbiz, performers are a Triple Threat when they can act, sing, and dance. With a first impression, you are a Triple Threat when you use your hands, your posture, and your eye contact. These are the three nonverbal weapons you can use to pass through all three levels of trust.
Never, ever skip a handshake. Don’t replace it with a wave or a high five or—heaven forbid—a fist bump.
Whenever you are talking to people, use your Launch Stance: Keep your shoulders down and back. Aim your chin, chest, and forehead straight in front of you or slightly up. Keep space between your arms and torso. Make sure your hands are visible.
Body language is the fastest way you can showcase confidence to others and hack your winning first impression.
Once we have decided someone is both trustworthy and a winner, we want to know if they should be on our team or not. This is the differentiator between a good first impression and a great one. Specifically, we are looking for indicators of alliance. Does this person like me? Would this person respect my opinion? Will this person include me? Sure, we like people who are trustworthy and confident, but if we don’t think they will respect us, we never level them up. Most TED Talkers pass only the first two levels. They may indicate their trustworthiness with hand gestures and capture confidence with a broad stance. However, most don’t know how to make the individuals in their audience feel cared for. They speak to the cameras, they speak to the slides, but they don’t speak to YOU. The best TED Talkers act much like a doting mother with their audience. They make eye contact with specific faces in the crowd and speak directly to them—making everyone watching feel like they truly matter. The sense of togetherness you get during a stellar TED Talk comes when you feel you are experiencing the slides and presentation along with the speaker. Viral TED Talkers speak to you, not at you.
One by one he finds something relevant for each person on the tour. One woman works at an international nonprofit to preserve the rain forests of South America. To her delight, he brings her to a large mural depicting the Colombian rain forest. Jeffer then learns one of our group members is an American journalist. He weaves around the streets to show him a political graphic on the base of a cement slab. It shows a black-and-white image of Edward Snowden with the words “Hero or Traitor?” emblazoned in large block letters. The journalist is blown away and begins scribbling away in his notebook for his next story to send home. Without realizing it, Jeffer is tapping into a fundamental law of human behavior. He creates sparks. His ability to captivate attention has made his Bogotá Graffiti Tour the second-highest-rated activity on TripAdvisor and has been featured in the New York Times as a must-see if you have only thirty-six hours to spend in Bogotá.
With no high peaks and no interesting hooks in small talks, our conversations come and go—we are lucky to remember our partner’s name, let alone what we talked about. Big Talk is like Space Mountain. You start with anticipation and roll easily through the conversation, laughing and hitting highs as it gets better and better.
Like a great roller coaster, great conversations leave you feeling both exhilarated and hoping you’ll never have to experience small talk again. Now, the death of small talk requires some effort. Like any good people hack, Big Talk means skirting conversational norms, challenging chitchat status quo, and shirking social scripts. Roller coasters command a little extra height and so does Big Talk.
The reason why we love roller coasters is because of the peaks. The top of each summit gives us a rush as we await and enjoy the glee of the ride. Big Talk is marked by the same kind of emotional peaks. The best conversations have specific jolts of energy and excitement—I call these star moments “sparks.”
Big Talk has tons of sparks—lots of little bursts of pleasure that we remember. Have you ever had a great conversation with someone? Afterward, did you savor it—replaying the high points, rolling around the humorous moments over and over again in your head? This is because conversational sparks make us feel good. In the brain, sparks are marked by dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in the amygdala when we feel pleasure. When we get a birthday gift, praise from our boss, or a reward, dopamine floods our brain. Think about the joy you get when you walk into a store and the clerk tells you, “Free samples!” That feeling of excitement is pure dopamine. Here’s what’s interesting about dopamine: It helps your memory. Molecular biologist Dr. John Medina likens dopamine to a mental marker. He says, “Dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing. You can think of it like a Post-it note that reads ‘Remember this!’ Getting one’s brain to put a chemical Post-it note on a given piece of information means that information is going to be more robustly processed.” In other words, being memorable boils down to inducing chemical pleasure. When you produce dopamine during a conversation, you not only give your partner more enjoyment, you are also assigned more significance, which increases your memorability. The question is: How do you spark dopamine during a conversation? I would love for you to keep little presents in your pockets like a birthday party magician, but that isn’t very practical—and business suits don’t have particularly roomy pockets. Instead, you can produce pleasure verbally. Presents don’t come only in colorfully wrapped packages. Rewards don’t need to have a dollar sign. Gratification doesn’t just come from physically feeling good.
Big Talk requires asking fresh questions that cause conversational sparks. I call these conversation “sparkers” in lieu of conversation “starters.” They ignite new ideas, introduce topics we have never thought about, and stimulate in-depth discussions.
If we abandon social scripts and push ourselves to use conversational sparks, we are more likely to enjoy our interactions and remember what was actually said.
If you keep using social scripts, you will be stuck in small talk forever. I challenge you to try using our top-rated conversation sparkers: Instead of . . . “How’s work?” Use “Working on any exciting projects recently?” Replace “How are you?” with “What was the highlight of your day?”, “What do you do?” with “Working on any personal passion projects?”, and so on.
Sometimes, if I am nervous about asking a conversation sparker, I will tell people, “I’m on a small-talk diet, can I ask you a new conversation sparker I’m trying out?” This question in itself releases dopamine! I always get a positive response when I preface a question this way—in fact, people tend to lean in, raise their eyebrows curiously, and exclaim something like, “Yes please! How interesting!”
One of the ways you can create conversational high points is by looking for someone’s hot-button issues. This is a topic, hobby, or activity that lights someone up. You know you have pushed a hot button when the other person: Begins nodding their head up and down as if to say, “Yes!” Murmurs in agreement with “Mmm-hmm” Leans in to hear more Writes back a longer e-mail than usual Exclaims in surprise with “Huh!” or “Wow!” Tells you, “Fascinating!” “Interesting,” or “Tell me more!” Raises their eyebrows—this is the universal signal of curiosity Says, “Ooohh” or “Aahh” Smiles and uses more animated gestures When any of these engagement cues happen, you know that you have just sparked some dopamine and pushed a hot button. This is what Jeffer Carrillo Toscano is looking for on his tours. He points things out or tells a story and looks to see if he has sparked any interest. If so, he goes into more detail.
Entrepreneurs who added a unique request, tried something a little different, or added interactivity to their pitch had a much higher likelihood of getting a deal.
Sharks hear dozens of pitches every episode, so when an entrepreneur tries something unique, it sparks dopamine for the investors and wakes them up.
- Not good with names? Not anymore. Here is my three-step Name Game that you can do every time you meet someone new:
- Meet and Repeat: As soon as you hear the name, say it out loud back to them. “It’s so nice to meet you, Eliza!” or “Eliza, this is my colleague Jenna.” This jangles the audio part of your memory and allows you to hear the name in your own voice. Plus, you give them a nice hit of dopamine.
- Spell It Out: Now we want to give that name a visual hook. Memory expert Dr. Gary Small encourages people to mentally spell out the name they are trying to remember. You can also pull up a picture of the name in your head.
- Associate and Anchor: Lastly, tie the name to someone else you know with that same name. It can even be a celebrity. This anchors the name to someone else you are familiar with. For example, whenever I meet a Matt, I always seat him at a poker table with all of my other Matt friends.
- Bonus: If it is a unique name or a name you have not heard before, tie it to a word that most closely resembles it. For example, I met a Syder (pronounced very similar to “cider”) so I pulled up a mental picture of a steaming glass of cider. He was shocked when I remembered his name at the end of the night. This exercise takes a bit of practice, but is a fun way to gamify names. I highly recommend teaching this Name Game to your friends or colleagues because you can help each other think of anchors when you meet people. Insider Tip: If you totally forget a name, set up a system with the people you are with. Anytime you introduce someone to them first, they should ask for the name. For example, if my husband says, “I would love to introduce you to my wife,” and does not mention the person’s name, it means he does not know it. Then I know to ask, “Lovely to meet you. What was your name?” Easy peasy.
We don’t like, remember, or enjoy being around boring people. The best way to hack into stimulating conversations and create memorable connections is to ignite conversational sparks. We are attracted to people who give us mental pleasure, who push our hot buttons, keep us mentally alert, and learn our names. Abandon social scripts to change your small talk to Big Talk. Find topics that turn people on. Create sparks by using people’s names, asking unique questions, and bringing up novel topics.
- I am terrified of awkward silences. I fear that moment when someone finishes a sentence and no one knows what to say next. To prevent these uncomfortable pauses, I got in the habit of interrupting. Worse, I began to preplan my responses while only half listening to the conversation. This is a terrible way to interact—it’s disrespectful, inauthentic, and exhausting for all parties. I realized that if I wanted to learn to be a better listener quickly, I should quit talking cold turkey. Enter: Vow of Silence. On August 10, 2014, I took a pledge and alerted all of my readers and colleagues that I would not be talking. I wanted to be in silence until the silence became less scary. There was one other hurdle. Even though I couldn’t talk, I still wanted to listen. So instead of hiding out in my house reading, I forced myself to attend all of my usual meetings, networking events, and dinners like normal, but just listened. This way, I had to be present. I couldn’t think about witty comebacks, funny stories, or follow-ups. My number one goal was simply to listen with my entire brain. I didn’t even allow myself to write—then I still would have been dreaming up clever responses instead of listening. My only allowances were four premade flash cards that I could show to people I encountered. They said:
- “I’ve taken a Vow of Silence. I’m trying to become a better listener.”
- “Please tell me about yourself.”
- “I’m sorry.”
- “Thank you for allowing my silence.”
The first day was the hardest. I walked into my first networking event as a sweaty, jittery mess. What if I freaked people out? What would I do in those horrible long pauses of silent disgust? Can you get kicked out of networking events for not networking? I completely panicked when a gentleman introduced himself. But I shakily held up my first card: “I’ve taken a Vow of Silence. I’m trying to become a better listener.” To my delight and surprise, he laughed and told me how he had once lost his voice to laryngitis in college and it was one of the coolest and craziest experiences of his life. Then he spoke about meeting his wife a few weeks later. Then he shared his hope for his children. Then he asked for my card. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t have to. He just wanted to be listened to. As humans, we are desperate to be heard. The biggest thing I learned during my Vow of Silence is that the best conversations aren’t about what you say, they are about what you hear. Before my Vow of Silence, my mind was always spinning trying to think of what I was going to say next. I couldn’t really process what people were saying because I was too busy trying to think of witty jokes, dazzling stories, and clever responses. This was a terrible way to interact. I was both distracted and turning people off by my distractedness. Then, to my great surprise, my silence won me more friends than my overeagerness ever had. Does this mean we should all go around being silent during our interactions? Definitely no. Being interested is only the first piece of the puzzle.
Personal friend of Sloan and leading business author Peter F. Drucker credits Sloan’s success not to a fearless vision or to ruthless tactics but to a listening-driven management style. How did Sloan hack the art of listening? Here’s how he worked: Sloan spent six days a week in meetings, three with formal agendas and three to address problems as they arose. Other than stating each meeting’s initial purpose, Sloan attended each meeting in silence. He almost never took notes or spoke except to clarify something with a question. According to Drucker, he ended each meeting with a brief pointed summary and thanks. Following each meeting, Sloan would pick one executive to be accountable and composed a short memo with a summary of what was said, next steps, work assignments, and a specific deadline. A copy of the memo was sent to everyone in the meeting.
For three decades, Silent Sloan led with what he heard, not with what he said. He listened with intent and then followed up with action. I call this hack being a highlighter.
The best communicators do the exact same thing. They listen to learn more about a person, to remember what was said and then find the important points to act upon.
Humans love to be given positive labels. They improve our self-image and gently push us to be better versions of ourselves. So as you use conversation sparkers and see what unexpected directions they lead you in, allow yourself to be impressed by the person across from you. Listen for their eloquent ideas. Find ways to emphasize their strengths. Celebrate their excitement. Take the rather silly example of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series. At the beginning of each school year, Hogwarts students are sorted into different houses by a magical hat that reads their minds, taking full measure of their hidden skills. Each house is known for different strengths, and as they move to the higher grades, students’ defining characteristics become more and more pronounced. Students in Slytherin tend to be sly, savvy, and interested in the dark arts, whereas those in Hufflepuff often end up in caretaking magical jobs like herbology and care of magical creatures. For better or for worse, the more clear the labels we’re given, the more we embody them.
Another way of highlighting is to celebrate the victories of others as if they were your own. Good feelings multiply around other good feelings—and divide when they are not matched. When you see someone who is proud, excited, or passionate—mirror and match it. This associates you with their feelings of pleasure. You can say something simple: “I am so thrilled for you!” “How wonderful that must be!” “That is just the best news, congrats!”
Seize introductions as the perfect way to highlight people. Even if you have only known them for a few minutes, you can find something to rave about. “Vanessa, meet Dave. He is killing it in the software industry and just had a hugely successful launch.” “Joe, meet Sue. She is an incredible painter and one of the most talented artists I know.” “Kirk, let me introduce you to Annie. We just met and she is telling me the most fascinating story of her trip to South Africa.” You can even do this when you’re the one introducing yourself: “It’s so nice to meet you! I have heard that you have an incredible blog. Please tell me all about how you got all of your success.” “Great to know you, a friend of John is a friend of mine. He always knows the most interesting people.” “It’s a pleasure! Your name tag says you work at Ken’s Bakery—they are my favorite pizza in town! Have you always been a pizza aficionado?” Why are raving introductions so powerful? First, you give people positive labels right at the start. Second, you tee up a great conversation and possible discussion topics for the people involved. Third, you get people talking about themselves—what they do and who they are, which produces dopamine. Yes, a raving introduction is ALSO a conversational spark. Boom: win-win-win.
Hallway chitchat and watercooler conversations matter. Expecting the best is not just important for new people, but also to build up the existing people in your life. What are you saying about and to your colleagues? Being a highlighter is about constantly searching for the good in people. When you tell people they are good, they become better. When you search for what’s good, you feel great.
Being memorable is not about bringing up your high points. It’s about highlighting theirs. Don’t try to impress people, let them impress you.
Being an amazing listener is not just about what you hear, it’s how you respond to what you hear.
We remember people who make us feel good and who make us want to be the best version of ourselves. You can optimize an interaction by expecting optimal outcomes. Elevate people by hacking listening, highlighting, and expecting the best in those around you. Being a highlighter helps you be the highlight. Listen with purpose—always search for the good. Be the high point of every interaction by giving people a reason to remember you. When you expect the worst, that’s exactly what you will get.
Howes had to start a new career track from scratch and accidentally discovered a powerful way to connect with people. In 2008, LinkedIn was a small social media website for business professionals, but Howes saw an opportunity to stay in touch with people in athletics—even though he could no longer play, he still had a passion for sports. He began to construct his contact list from scratch. Next, he started testing what kind of messages worked best on cold contacts. “It was easy to track which messages were working and which were not based on the replies in my LinkedIn inbox,” explained Howes. He found that his most successful messages mentioned at least three commonalities he had with the person. “I would try to find at least three things we shared—usually a mutual connection, a mutual interest, and a mutual organization, like a school, league, or sports team,” said Howes. These messages were short and to the point. Howes composed a sample for me using this method: Hi Vanessa! My name is Lewis and I wanted to reach out because I saw you’re also friends with Nick Onken, we do work with Pencils of Promise together. I’m based in LA and saw you’re from here. Do you ever get back in town? Would love to connect. Howes crafted a strategy for his follow-up messages, too. “I told them I loved their work and wanted to learn from them. I was direct and said, ‘My goal is to learn about you and your success,’” said Howes. He ended every interaction with a specific question they could answer. Amazingly, this approach landed Howes phone calls, one-on-one meetings, and mentorships with some of the most powerful people in sports over and over again. One of his most impressive cold messages landed him a meeting with the cofounder of ESPN, Bill Rasmussen. “I was this kid with no job and no money, but I reached out to Bill and was able to get a sit-down meeting and interview him,” recalled Howes. After the first year of reaching out to important people and learning from them, Howes hit a turning point. He realized what he was doing wasn’t enough. “At this point, I understood that I couldn’t just take, I had to give. But how do you give to someone like Bill Rasmussen?” explained Howes. As his contact list grew, Howes realized he finally had something to offer his connections—his own network. “I enjoyed helping people and relished becoming what Malcolm Gladwell calls a ‘connector,’” said Howes. He asked his VIPs who they wanted to meet and then worked to get them that connection.
Without realizing it, we are constantly searching for reasons to think, feel, or say, “Me too!” On the other hand, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is inadvertently pointing out differences while trying to connect. Whenever you say a version of “Not me!” you are handicapping your connection from the start. Don’t fall into the “Not me!” trap; instead, find a way to say “Me too!”
Every interaction should be about finding threads of commonalities. Every thread that binds you brings you closer to a person. The more threads you have, the more socially attractive you become.
- There are three main categories of commonalities that you can pull from at any time:
- People: Mutual contacts are the best way to find threads of similarity. You can also liven up the conversation by searching for mutual friends.
- Context: Think you don’t have anything in common? Think about the context of your meeting. Maybe you’re both on LinkedIn or both at the same conference. All you have to do is ask about it to get the conversational ball rolling.
- Interests: Common interests are the best kind of threads because they introduce a topic you both invariably know a lot about, ripe territory for great stories and interesting conversation.
Every time you offer help, support, and advice, you create a deeper bond with someone and a permanent similarity. Most of the time, opportunities to help people find solutions come up organically. You hear someone has a need and know you can help. Here are some examples: Since you’re new in town, I can send you a list of my favorite local restaurants. I’m sure I know someone in that industry—connect with me on LinkedIn and I can introduce you. I frequently get extra tickets to the game; I’ll text you next time! It sounds like that is a real problem. Let’s set up a consult call and I can see if my company can help. Yeah, going vegan is so hard. I have a few recipes I can send you. If nothing comes up during a conversation, you can also end with a tie. I typically end most of my great meetings with a single question: Can I help you with anything?
The more you have in common with someone, the more likable you become. We like people like us. The Thread Theory is an easy way to captivate attraction by simply searching for shared interests, asking why, and then offering to help. Always be on the lookout for ways to say, “Me too!” Don’t overthink what you are going to say, just search for commonalities. Go deeper by asking the Five Whys. Tie yourself to someone by making their problem your own.
- Decoding is all about looking for the emotional intent behind the words. It’s about listening by hearing and looking. First, here’s how to use the Decoder hack:
- Congruency: Look to see if someone’s stated emotions match their visible emotions. If your client says he is happy to see you, he should have a happy microexpression. If your wife says she is “fine,” but has an angry microexpression, she probably isn’t “fine.”
- Connection: People make microexpressions while they are talking and while they are listening. Facial expressiveness is never “off.” While this can be a lot to take in, paying consistent attention to someone’s face also helps you with Hack #2—the eye contact piece of the Triple Threat. If you thought your average eye contact was below 60 percent, then reading microexpressions is an easy way to incentivize more gazing.
- Speed: Microexpressions happen incredibly quickly—in less than a second. Anything longer than a second is simply a facial expression. Why is this important? Microexpressions (less than a second) cannot be controlled, so they are honest views into emotions. Facial expressions (longer than a second) can be faked and are less honest. Therefore, you should look at brief flashes of facial responsiveness for the most accurate reading.
- I used to find people intimidating. I couldn’t keep personality differences straight. And I found it impossible to figure out behavior—let alone predict needs. Why did one friend love to chat while another never called me back? Why did some bosses encourage an open-door policy, while others used their secretary as a gatekeeper? Then, one day, I stumbled upon something called the five-factor model. This psychological principle posits that all humans have five basic personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (easily remembered as OCEAN). And each and every person ranks either high or low for each trait.
- Openness: This trait reflects how you approach new ideas. It also describes how curious you are, your level of creativity, and how much you appreciate variety and originality.
- High: Enjoys novelty, change, and adventure.
- Low: Savors traditions, routines, and habits.
- Conscientiousness: This trait describes your approach to getting things done. It measures your self-discipline, organization, and reliability.
- High: Loves to-do lists, organization, and schedules. Enjoys digging into the details and making things “perfect.”
- Low: Typically prefers big ideas and strategy. Might find lists and schedules stifling and overwhelming.
- Extroversion: This trait describes how you approach people. Do you get energy from social situations, or do they drain you? This probably affects your talkativeness and optimism.
- High: Gets energy from being with people. Tends to be cheerful and seeks out social time.
- Low: Craves alone time and finds being with people draining.
- Agreeableness: This trait describes how you approach cooperation and working with others. It also speaks to how empathetic and quick to forgive you are, and how much attention you pay to the mental states of others.
- High: Easy to get along with, very empathetic, and enjoys caring for others.
- Low: More analytical, practical, and skeptical—prefers to keep emotions out of decisions.
- Neuroticism: This trait describes how you approach worry. It also explains how emotionally reactive you are to your environment.
- High: Tends to be a worrier. Frequently experiences mood swings.
- Low: Typically calm, stable, and has very little mood fluctuation. These traits gave me a starting point. I began to “solve” each of the important people in my life by looking at their behavioral patterns.
- Openness: This trait reflects how you approach new ideas. It also describes how curious you are, your level of creativity, and how much you appreciate variety and originality.
I was no longer anxious when I ran into my boss in the break room. When trying to figure out if he was high open (likes trying new things), I asked about his most recent vacations and then his career path. This led to a great rapport, and, eventually, his asking me to grab lunch “to continue this great conversation.” I was arriving at a much deeper and more accurate understanding of the people in my life. Once I learned my boss was a low extrovert (preferred to work and brainstorm alone), I got in the habit of sending him my ideas before our office meetings so he could review them on his own time —he always got back to me first and prioritized my ideas. I was getting faster at decoding new personalities. After only a few minutes of chitchat, I could guess how someone would rank. When I met my boss’s wife, I was able to instantly connect with her by asking about her favorite restaurants. Her answer helped me predict which topics of conversation she might enjoy most, leading to a lively discussion over drinks. Without realizing it, I was following Nicolosi’s guide to figuring people out. I was asking purposeful questions. I was listening and watching for behavioral clues. Then, I was using their individual cipher, or personality matrix, to predict and optimize for their behavior.
Examine your own personality. Then learn to decode others’ personalities by asking the right questions and observing their behaviors. Lastly, make sure you optimize or compromise for differences. Don’t impose your personality traits on others. Learn to speed-read each of the Big Five personality traits. Endeavor to combine your personalities so they work with each other not against each other.
- Do you need to motivate someone at work? Tap into what they value. Do you need to understand a partner’s baffling choice? Figure out how it met their value needs. Want to know what gets someone up in the morning? Decode their primary value. Killer social skills require seeing the world through someone’s lens besides your own. Appeal to someone by focusing on what they value, not what you value. Be warned: I think uncovering someone’s value language is the most difficult layer of the matrix. I use these tactics:
- Complaints and Brags: Does someone complain about not being paid enough at work? (Money) Not being recognized for an achievement? (Status) Not having a nice enough car? (Goods) Or do they brag about how they took care of a sick parent? (Service) How much the new boss likes them? (Love) How much they know about the new corporate partner? (Information) We’re usually proud of obtaining our primary resource and upset about not having enough of it. This comes out in boasts, grumbles, and brags.
- Nonverbal Cues: Body language can also help you figure out if you are tapping into or refusing someone’s primary value. Think of our good friend Mario. When he gets a Fire Flower or Super Mushroom, he jumps into the air, gets bigger, or runs faster. But when he hits a Koopa shell or a Goomba, he shrinks or loses a life. It’s the same in real life (minus the overalls and mustache). When someone gets a primary value met, they are delighted! Watch for genuine happiness microexpressions, leans, nods, and winner body language. When someone does not get their primary value met, they show disgust, anger, contempt, or defeated body language.
- Behavioral Cues: Once you start looking for it, someone’s behavior can tell you a lot about needs they are trying to fill. Here is how this might look in the workplace: Colleague A always stays late to suck up to the boss. You can tell they’re constantly looking for praise or more responsibility. Their primary value might be Status. Colleague B leaves promptly every day at five p.m., but always gets their projects done in time for the raise review. They are the first to ask about year-end bonuses. Their primary value might be Money. Colleague C is an office butterfly, making friends with colleagues and leaving supportive notes on people’s desks. Their primary value might be Love. Colleague D always remembers people’s birthdays, loves to plan office parties, and always organizes the corporate softball team. Their primary value might be Service. Colleague E desperately wants the corner office and the best parking space in the lot. They love all the corporate perks and never forget to bring everyone souvenirs from vacations. Their primary value might be Goods. Colleague F is a bit of an office gossip, so they always know what’s going on behind the scenes. They also play golf with all the partners. Their primary value might be Information.
- Worries: What keeps someone up at night? What do they stress out about? This can clue you into their primary value. Do you have a friend who is constantly moaning about feeling out of the loop? Her primary value might be Information. Do you have a colleague who freaks out over people’s titles and is always stressing about who will get the next promotion? His primary value might be Status. Listen to the kinds of things someone worries about. Ask them what they worry about or the biggest worries in their life. Match it with a primary value. These can be hard to pick up on at first, but analyzing someone’s past behavior can help point you in the right direction toward their primary value.
Special Note: I love the direct approach, but primary values are hard to talk about honestly. Most people who are driven by Money are ashamed to admit it—even though this is a legit and necessary resource. Others feel embarrassed to say that they need to be liked or please people. Be aware that what someone says about their value language might not match the way they actually behave.
Interactions are about transferring resources to each other. There are six categories of resources that we give and take with each other. We are driven by one main category, also known as your primary value. Each of us has a primary value that drives our behaviors, actions, and decisions. Hacking into someone’s primary value is the final step to decoding them. Understand how you give and take resources. Know what your primary value is. Tap into the value layer of the matrix to know what drives people.
When Paone speaks, people not only listen—they beg to hear more. Paone accidentally stumbled upon the ultimate shortcut to connection. She is a storyteller.
Stories help us literally get on the same wavelength as the people we are with. They not only listen to what we are saying but also experience what we are saying. Even simple stories rev up brain activity and sync us up with the people around us.
- The easiest way to harness the power of stories is to have a Story Stack with your favorite anecdotes, narratives, and follow-up questions all in one place, ready to use. Here’s how it works:
- Trigger Topic: You know how the same subjects tend to come up over and over again in conversations? I call these trigger topics. When chatting over drinks or meeting new people, we constantly hear about the weather, traffic, weekend plans, and latest TV shows. These are commonly talked about, safe, generic areas. These are the first level in your Story Stack. When you hear a trigger topic, you can use it as a launching pad to tell your stories. Take a look at the list below and add any topics that frequently come up in your conversations.
- Sparking Stories: We have stories about everything, but we very rarely stop to take stock of them. Sparking stories are those anecdotes that produce laughter, ahas, groans, and great follow-up conversation. Use the prompts below to hunt for at least one story for each trigger topic.
- Boomerang: After you are done telling a story, you always want to bring the conversation back around to the other person you are speaking with. They can then answer and send it back to you. I call this throwing a boomerang—at the end of your story, how can you tie the idea back to them? What question can you ask to hunt for their stories? How can you get them talking? Or how can you make them laugh?
Fill out the Story Stack below with as many trigger topics, sparking stories, and boomerangs as you can think of. Remember: Your stories don’t have to be originals. Heard a funny story at work? Add it to your stack. Read a funny anecdote in this book? Add it to your stack.
- Having a great Story Stack isn’t much good if you’re not a great storyteller. Three simple elements differentiate an okay story from an awesome one:
- Start with a Hook: You have to grab attention from the start. A hook is a provocative question, stimulating statement, or open-ended idea to pique interest. I started my Bill Maher story with the hook, “I used to watch Bill Maher all the time, but after I humiliated myself in front of him, I could never watch him the same way again.” Invariably, this hook gets people curious.
- Champion a Struggle: The best stories have at their center some kind of a struggle. A question, a problem to be solved, or a challenge to be overcome. In the Bill Maher story, the struggle was “Who’s in the car?” Or think of it as creating suspense. Can you hint at something? Are you facing off against someone else? Is there a punch line on the way?
- Utilize Provocative Words: Remember how the brain’s olfactory system lights up when it hears the words “perfume” and “coffee”? The more descriptive your story, the more your listeners’ brains will light up. Spice up your story by adding expressive, interesting words. You can use all three of these elements in under two minutes—and you should keep your story short. After three minutes you become a conversation hog.
- Once you start using this model, it becomes easy to turn a boring anecdote into a laugh-worthy story. The author Susan Cain used this structure to get over 14 million views on her TED Talk on introversion. She used the hook, struggle, and boomerang format to captivate her audience.
- Hook: When I was nine years old, I went off to summer camp for the first time. And my mother packed me a suitcase full of books, which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. Because in my family, reading was the primary group activity.
- Struggle: And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventureland inside your own mind. And I had this idea that camp was going to be just like this, but better.
- Unique Words: I had a vision of ten girls sitting in a cabin cozily reading books in their matching nightgowns. But camp was more like a keg party without any alcohol. And on the very first day, our counselor gathered us all together and taught us a cheer that she said we’d be doing every day for the rest of the summer to instill camp spirit. And it went like this: “R-O-W-D-I-E, that’s the way we spell rowdie. Rowdie, rowdie, let’s get rowdie.”
- Boomerang: Yeah. So I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why we were supposed to be so rowdy, or why we had to spell this word incorrectly. Cain could have told this same story in a boring way by simply saying: Even though many people see reading as antisocial, for me, it was a family activity. When I went to camp, it was incredibly hard to find my place. Instead, she added elements to get people hooked to her struggle. And her boomerang was getting the audience to laugh—which is the best kind of boomerang in front of a large group.
The best stories are the ones that share both failures and successes. Don’t be afraid to share something a little embarrassing, a little vulnerable, a little scary. These are the stories that build the best connection.
Stories are your shortcut to connection. Stories spark our attention and align the listener’s brain patterns with those of the storyteller. Using your Story Stack is the best way to get someone in line with your way of thinking. Stories light up and sync up our brains. Find stories for common trigger topics that come up in conversation, then use boomerangs to ask people to share their own stories. Not all stories are created equal. Every story should have a hook, a struggle, and vivid words.
Leading people is about communicating a mission and then letting them take part in it. If you want to motivate a colleague, empower a team, or inspire a friend, all you have to do is figure out how to give them ownership.
Always use the word “because” when asking for something. “Because” implies purpose. Whether you are pitching yourself, trying to get a date, or convincing a friend to choose your favorite restaurant for dinner, you always want to have your why at the ready.
- Here is how you can give your “because” more impact.
- Tie to Them: The best “because” benefits the listener. What’s the payoff? What’s the end result? What’s the advantage? Think of L’Oréal’s slogan, “Because I’m Worth It,” which appeals directly to the customer’s needs.
- Tie to You: If something means a lot to you, or would make you incredibly happy, harness that authentic passion to create a powerful “because.” Gordon believes fervently in equality and diversity. He also has two young daughters whom he wants the best for. Even if those aren’t your own goals, hearing him speak is powerfully moving. Or think of the United States Marine Corps slogan, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines,” which shows what the marines stand for and their elite mission.
- Tie to Us: You can also tie your “because” to a mutual benefit, or the way something could help an entire community. When pitching Citizens of the World Charter Schools, Gordon underscores how raising future world leaders will make the world better for everyone. Of course, the schools help students and their families most directly, but they also benefit the world they will enter after graduation. Similarly, Apple’s “Think Different” slogan is an appeal to both the user and the world to challenge the status quo.
The why is your launching pad for inspiration. You cannot empower people without knowing what drives you—because it will also be what drives your people. Bottom Line: Give people emotional ownership over ideas, goals, and projects.
Let the right person use their skills and then step back. I call this process “skill ownership.” Every time someone uses their talents to accomplish part of a goal, they feel more ownership over that goal—and this makes them want to achieve it even more.
Say you’re in your best friend’s bridal party. The bride and groom—let’s call them Rachel and Brian—have asked you to spearhead pre-wedding activities and logistics for the bridesmaids and groomsmen. The wedding planner hands you a long list of items that need to get done, from grabbing ice for the rehearsal dinner to putting the flowers in water before the wedding. The first step is to give everyone emotional ownership. You assemble everyone in the hotel suite and introduce yourself. “It’s so nice to finally meet all of you! The wedding planner just gave me a list of some things we could all help out with because Rachel and Brian are a little overwhelmed. I know our goal is to make this wedding as smooth as possible for the bride and groom and get everything done so we can party up at the wedding.” This ties in the goal (getting the list done) with both helping the couple and ensuring a good time for everyone on the wedding night. People nod and go around introducing themselves—great! You have everyone on board. Next, you want to turn that emotional buy-in into action. Here’s what most people do, which doesn’t work: Can someone finish the table name cards?…Anyone, anyone? Who can go pick up the ice before the rehearsal dinner?…Please? Someone? Who wants to assemble these frames and hang them?…Come on, guys! We all have to pitch in! Splitting up tasks this way is not the best way to encourage action. People might grudgingly say yes, but it will be like pulling teeth. Instead of randomly delegating or hoping people will self-select, you want to divide the list by skills. This highlights people’s abilities so they feel capable, as opposed to burdened. To do this, use what I call Skill Solicitation. Skill Solicitation is when you ask people to self-identify based on capability: Is anyone good at__? Do you know anything about __? I need someone who is strong with __. For the wedding, it might go like this: Does anyone have nice handwriting? Great! Susie, would you mind finishing up the table name cards? Does anyone have a car here? Wonderful! Steve, would you mind picking up the ice before the rehearsal dinner tomorrow? I need someone who is really handy—anyone good at fixing things? Thank you so much, Greg. Will you assemble and hang these picture frames? This is not only a faster way to delegate, but it also lets tasks be skill oriented as opposed to duty oriented. Use this tactic on corporate teams, sports teams, with kids, with friends, and with family. Direct invitations can be as effective as open questions. For example, Mark Gordon knew Kriste Dragon had the right skill set, so he called her and asked her to use those specific skills to achieve his mission. Some other examples: Uncle Jim, you are so good at mixing cocktails—can you man the bar tonight? Rene, I know you are very good at nailing those cold calls—can you tackle this list tomorrow? Julie, you always pick the best restaurants—do you want to plan the birthday dinner? Do you notice something else about these examples? They also secretly use: The Highlighter. Skill Solicitation is a great way to emphasize someone’s strengths and use them toward a common goal.
As humans, we can’t help but feel bogged down by what we perceive as our limitations and failings. So we try to hide them. We hold back from connecting with people for fear that they might see our ugly parts and judge us. What we don’t realize is that our secrets don’t have to prevent connection—they can encourage it.
Asking for advice is one of the best ways to get along with people and build lasting relationships. Here’s why: Asking for advice softly admits a vulnerability. When you ask for advice, you are admitting a gap in knowledge or a need for help in an authentic, non-scary way. Asking for advice gets people talking. Remember how much people like to talk about themselves? Rather than being a burden, you spark pleasure (Hack: Conversational Sparks) and have the opportunity to highlight someone’s strengths (Hack: Highlighter). Being asked for our opinion shows that someone values what we have to say. Asking for advice helps you solve someone’s matrix. When someone gives you advice, you learn so much about them. You get insight into their perspective (Hack: Speed-Read) and the things that matter most to them (Hack: Primary Value). Asking for advice doesn’t have to be a formal process. In fact, it is one of the simplest ways to stimulate fascinating conversation. Listen for anecdotes people tell about themselves, and then follow up by asking for advice in those areas. If an interviewer mentions loving to read, you can ask for recommendations. If a date says she grew up nearby, ask for hidden coffee spots. If someone mentions loving to cook, ask for any secret kitchen tips. Or kick off a conversation by asking for advice. These conversation sparkers work nicely: Have any good restaurants you like? I’m thinking about taking a vacation at the end of the year—have you been anywhere great recently? I’m looking for a new book to read this summer—have anything you would recommend? What do you think I should get my girlfriend for our anniversary? I’m playing in a new fantasy football league—how do you think this season will end up? I’m thinking about buying a new car—do you like yours? My in-laws are coming for dinner—have any recipes you like? I have to open my speech next week with a joke—got any good crowd-pleasers? What do you think I should do for my birthday coming up? Seen any funny YouTube videos recently? My college friend is coming to visit—have any ideas for must-see hidden spots to take him?
You don’t impress people by mentioning your accolades, accomplishments, or awards. You impress them by mentally turning on their reward systems.
Turn people on by making them feel wanted, liked, and known. We are often so wrapped up in our own thoughts, schedules, and agendas that we forget to tune into other people’s feelings, needs, and values.
- All the hacks:
- Hack #1: The Social Game Plan: When you say no to survive situations and embrace thrive situations, you encourage people to also interact in a way that works for them.
- Hack #2: The Triple Threat: When you show up with trusting, confident body language, you inspire the people you are with to be more trusting and confident.
- Hack #3: Conversational Sparks: When you break social scripts with conversation sparks, you engage your partner’s need to respond in kind—with more interesting, exciting tidbits.
- Hack #4: Highlighter: When you highlight people’s strengths, you not only bring out the best in them, you also encourage them to see the best in you.
- Hack #5: Thread Theory: As you search for threads of similarities, you inspire people to hop on the “me too” bandwagon.
- Hack #6: The Decoder: As you tap into and respond to people’s true emotions, they are more incentivized to be direct and learn about yours.
- Hack #7: Speed-Read: When you respect someone’s true personality orientation, you show how you would like to be treated.
- Hack #8: The Appreciation Matrix: Finding the energy to appreciate someone on their terms teaches them how to truly care about someone—so they can return it to you in kind.
- Hack #9: Primary Value: When you show someone you value them, they are more inclined to respect your primary value.
- Hack #10: The Story Stack: The more great, witty, clever stories you share, the more people will want to tell you theirs.
- Hack #11: Own It!: The more you empower others, the more they will see you as a leader.
- Hack #12: The Franklin Effect: The more vulnerable you are, the more vulnerable people will be with you.
- Hack #13: The NUT Job: Your calm and direct communication both calms the people you are with and shows them how to direct communication back to you.
- Hack #14: Attunement: The more you show you are interested in someone, the more interested they will be in you.
- The greatest gift we can give the people we encounter is to help them feel accepted for who they are. When my elementary school friend picked me to be on her team, it was one of the first times I felt accepted. When she wanted to get to know me, I finally felt like I was being heard. And when we finally became best friends and sat together every day at lunch, I finally felt I belonged.